The Prime Minister’s announcement of the cancellation of Carnival 2021 appears to have caught even the National Carnival Commission by surprise, although it has quickly moved to endorse the position and activate its plan to “restructure and innovate Carnival and its many events”.
One would have assumed that such a decision would have been taken more collaboratively.
As it was, both the NCC and the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts appear to have been caught on the backfoot by Dr Rowley’s announcement during Monday’s Spotlight on the Economy, which immediately turned Carnival into the headline item of the pre-budget event hosted by the Ministry of Finance.
Notwithstanding this, the cancellation of next year’s Carnival comes as no surprise to anyone. With the usual lead-time for planning all but eaten up by the pandemic, most Carnival interests have already re-tailored their expectations and are planning to suit. To the extent that the Government can bring planning, management, financial and other resources to the effort, its involvement will help shape the Carnival experience to suit the realities of the Covid world.
However, while the State is the great facilitator, Carnival draws on many individual energies, all of which are already putting their minds to the task.
In this context, we wait to see what comes out of the Culture Ministry’s dialogue with the festival’s major stakeholders to “envisage” a celebration which honours the traditions of Carnival while adhering to pandemic protocols.
While planning the Covid Carnival will consume much of the available energies, we hope that all interests, including the Government and the NCC, will see the value of using this period to re-think not only the staging of Carnival during a pandemic, but the opportunity to bring some long-needed fresh thinking and innovation to the festival.
It is no secret that Carnival has been in search of a new direction for years. It has shifted from a spectator to a participation event, lost its moorings within communities, become more import- and therefore foreign exchange-intensive, and shifted its value from the creators of mas to Carnival entrepreneurs in ways that have been threatening the wellspring and well-being of Carnival’s creativity.
Viewed from this perspective, Covid-19 has given the festival a much-needed break for review, recalibration and re-engineering. The Trinidad Carnival is an intense, highly complex experience that integrates many distinctive and unique art forms: mas, steelband and the music of calypso and soca. Despite its many offshoots, it is still like no other Carnival in the world. It is a rare public official who understands it as more than a festival to be managed. Indeed, just the task of identifying its stakeholders is a challenge in itself which creates all kinds of problems regarding policy and strategy.
While it plans and executes Carnival 2021, we encourage the Ministry of Culture to reach for a broad, introspective discussion about Carnival and not limit its remit. The future of Carnival requires a lot more than the management of an online Carnival.
As in every other area of national life, Covid-19 is an opportunity not be wasted.